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Refugee Aid Group Leader Can't Believe 'Act Of Love' Triggered Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Suspect

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The FBI says the gunman responsible for Saturday's mass killing at the Tree of Life Synagogue posted online about a refugee aid group known as "HIAS," or the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

In a post on the social network "Gab," the alleged gunman claimed "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people."

Many people had never even heard of HIAS until this weekend, but it is active in Pittsburgh, resettling countless refugees in recent years.


The group's leader can't believe a positive mission of love by the organization would wind up triggering the alleged gunman.

"Over 300 congregations in 32 states and the District of Columbia and even Canada participate in this Jewish celebration of refugees to make refugees feel welcome," Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, said.

Hetfield said one of the congregations on the list was Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations inside the Tree of Life Synagogue.

"To think that this horrible act came out of this act of love that this congregation did for refugees is… words can't express how I feel about that," Hetfield said.

Hetfield said we must now keep our eyes open and handle threats and hate speech differently.

"We have, our policy has just been to ignore it and just to look the other way and we can't do that anymore," he said.

The local affiliate of HIAS in Pittsburgh is in Squirrel Hill -- the Jewish Family and Community Services.

Jewish Family and Community Services
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"As we were standing and sitting in the JCC and helping out, we had the news turned on so that we can track what was happening. That's when we were hearing reports of what was posted on social media," Dr. Jordan Golin, president and CEO of JFCS, said.

Posts by the alleged gunman that accused HIAS of bringing "hostile invaders" to Pittsburgh.

Refugee director Leslie Aizenman says they're even more committed to helping.

"From what I can see, the majority of people are very much in support of what we do, if they understand what we do. Hopefully gives us more opportunity to explain who these people are and how safe they are. They are fleeing terror, they're not causing terror," she said.

On the ground in Pittsburgh, members of the JFCS say they will offer mental health clinicians to Jewish day schools, a weekly program for teens and drop-in hours at the Jewish Community Center from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to help everyone who needs to grieve.

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